Asia Minute: Singapore’s Migrant Labor COVID-19 Challenge

Apr 20, 2020

The novel coronavirus pandemic has hit vulnerable populations around the world especially hard. That includes the elderly and the disabled. And in Singapore, it includes low-wage workers from other countries.

For all of its early successes in dealing with the novel coronavirus, Singapore has run into some challenges lately. And a lot of them center on people brought in from overseas to work at low-wage jobs — commonly known as “migrant workers.” They work in construction, in maintenance, and other industrial jobs.

Most commonly they are housed in company dormitories — squeezed together in tight conditions.

Over two days at the end of last week, Singapore reported more than 1,300 new cases of COVID-19 — the vast majority were migrant workers. According to official government figures, more than 20% of all positive cases in the country are linked to a single dormitory complex.

Testing of migrant workers in Singapore is increasing, and the results are expected to show higher figures in coming days.

So far, Singapore has more than 5,000 positive cases, but public health experts now fear that number could spike because of the clusters that are emerging.

The Straits Times quotes Alex Cook, vice dean of research at the National University of Singapore’s School of Public Health as saying that based on current patterns, cases among foreign workers alone could climb to between 10 and 20,000 by the end of the month.